A few commuters walk onto the train — an A, or 2, or 3, something Manhattan bound. Packed car. The car lurches forward and then stops.

A conductor’s voice comes over the loudspeaker and it’s a human voice: “Attention ladies and gentlemen. We’re being held in the station momentarily due to a drainage problem a few stations ahead of this one, a common problem in the subway system, where we take out 13 million gallons of water on a non-rainy day, water that otherwise contributes to delays.”

A man takes his earbuds out of his ear, very confused.

The woman next to him looks up from Netflix to clarify the situation. “Didn’t you hear? The MTA just released its subway action plan. They’re going to fix the subways, in under a year. More reliability. Fewer delays. Better communication, telling us what’s actually going on instead of the rote announcements. Things are looking up.”

The man puts his earbuds back in. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he says.

Act II

The train starts humming — you know, that sound it does to trick you into thinking it will start moving again. The man and the woman bend their knees in preparation for acceleration. But the train doesn’t move. The human voice comes over the loudspeaker again.

“After an earlier incident, namely the historic underfunding of the subway by previous politicians and governing bodies, we at the MTA have come up with some ways to temporarily stabilize the system: they include adding teams of maintenance workers in strategic places to fix problems when they happen. Also mobile units of EMTs to take care of sick passengers. Also mobile units to work on broken cars. Also . . .”

The man pulled his earbud out again. “Sounds like a lot of mobility,” he said. “Mobile’s better than not.”

He was thinking of the number of times he’d been stuck because of a sick passenger. Who were those sick passengers? Did they ever get better?

The conductor’s voice continued, almost jubilant, adding dozens of ideas soon to be put into action like the heavy-duty cleaning of stations and removing seats from cars on the L train, among other feats of imaginative thinking.

For a moment the lights on the train wink out and then on again, the air conditioning stops and then restarts, and the doors open and close without the usual ding-dong. The train is still in the station.


The conductor is apologizing again for the delays, and explaining a few more of the reasons for them — track fires, for example, created by customer litter. The fact that thoughtless riders lean against the doors and make them malfunction. The aging signal infrastructure, groaning from overuse because there are now so many riders.

The commuters are starting to get a little rowdy through this blame game — the senior citizens with their bags clutched in their laps are no longer stoically grimacing, the entrepreneurial peanut M&M guys no longer making sales.

“Let’s get going already,” the man grunts.

“All of the above will cost a little over $800 million for now, and we can use some help with funding,” the conductor finishes quickly. The people in the car shrug. “Just don’t mess with my senior discount fare,” one of the bag-clutching senior citizens intones.

The riders wait. Someday they know the car will move again. Someday the delays will thin. At some point the countdown clocks will be finished. The woman looks up patiently one more time from her Netflix. “Well,” she says, “at least this conductor has a nice voice.”